Riverdale Season 3 Episode 10: “The Stranger”

 

It will, I’m sure, surprise no one to hear that last week’s ending was a fakeout. Nor will it surprise you to hear that this episode contains gratuitous shirtlessness, ludicrous plot twists that no one bothers explaining, and shaky understandings of legal concepts. But it combines a Silence of the Lambs homage with a classic high school show Taking-the-SATs episode as only Riverdale could do, and the jokes were on point!

Previously on Riverdale: Hiram was following Archie and Jughead around; the Parents teamed up to play G&G and have an ascension party; Fangs was dealing Jingle Jangle; Jughead sent Fangs to go undercover with the Gargoyle Gang; Archie ran from Riverdale and got attacked by a bear; and Veronica, after a proper mourning period, started making out with Reggie.

Jughead opens with the announcement, “At 8:47 on a Wednesday morning, Archie Andrews died.” Except he means metaphorically: “At least, the Archie we knew.” Uh, that was kind of a mean fakeout for those of us who were secretly or not-so-secretly tired of Archie’s myriad problems.

After weeks of declaring that Hiram would kill him if he came back to Riverdale, Archie suddenly decides to make an appearance chez Fred. Guess that plotline is over too! He tells Fred that he couldn’t keep running. Fred asks, “What about Hiram?” Archie, laughing: “I survived a bear attack.” Fred one-ups him with, “I survived the Black Hood. Twice.” The Black Hood I’ll give you, but is a grizzly bear really more deadly than a gang leader with a gun?

Veronica is doing paperwork (with the kicky plaid librarian outfit to match) at her completely empty bar (SERIOUSLY WHEN DO THESE KIDS GO TO SCHOOL) when Archie appears. She hugs him hard but then asks angrily why he didn’t call her–and what happened to his hair. Archie awkwardly says it was so her father wouldn’t recognize him. She looks sad, and he apologizes–and they start making out. Noooo! Veronica, what about Reggie?!

The gang of four get together and everyone is shocked to see Archie ordering a root beer float instead of his usual strawberry milkshake. “New drink, new hair, new haunted, vacant look in your eyes…” Jughead says. I have two thoughts on this. One, how can eyes be both haunted and vacant? Those are more or less opposite. Two, if Archie does have a vacant look in his eyes, I guess Veronica really has a type. Archie asks what he missed, and Veronica starts with explaining what happened after the quarantine even though Archie knows nothing about the quarantine. When it comes to updating everyone on Veronica’s financially inexplicable deal with Jughead to provide security, they both assure Archie he’s covered too: “I have guys on you 24/7,” Jughead says adorably, like a chief of police in a mediocre serial. But he also thinks he can get rid of the threat permanently, and tells them all about Fangs going undercover.

“Well, there goes studying for the SATs,” Betty remarks, and it turns out that they’re all taking the SATs this weekend. A rite of passage for all high school shows: the episode where everyone freaks out about the SATs! Even though these kids only set foot in school when they’re, like, searching for secret artifacts in the trophy cabinet.

Just then, Betty’s debit card is declined. She runs home to accuse her mother of draining her account. “Not drained, just transferred,” Alice says calmly before explaining that it was wired to the farm as a tax deductible donation. Yeah… I think that qualifies as “drained,” but I like Alice’s prospects as a politician. Alice says it was to help the students she liberated from the sisters. Betty wails that it was her tuition money, but Alice suggests she study at the farm for free. Yeah… I bet they’ve got a great pre-law program there.

FP and Fred show up at Hiram’s office in matching black jackets and swaggers. It is super cute. Fred announces that Archie’s home and Hiram hilariously grins and drawls, “Well that’s just great, Fred.” When FP and Fred start getting uppity, Hiram interrupts to say, “I’ve never wished harm to… either of your sons,” complete with a killingly funny (no pun intended) pause in the middle of the sentence. Not to be swayed from their adorable little display of toughness, Fred makes an impractical threat of violence if Hiram harms Archie, and then leaves. Great scene. Hiram was totally hilarious.

Archie visits the guidance counselor, who advises him to be “realistic” about his goals, and recommends that he repeat his junior year. Archie says incredulously, “And not graduate with my friends?” Archie, last week you were planning to live in the woods in Canada for the rest of your life!

Speaking of school, Veronica actually goes there today! She’s at her locker when Reggie bounds up with a big grin like the puppy dog he is and asks why she didn’t text him last night. Ohhh, Reggie. Veronica says sadly that Archie’s back, and as she starts to explain long-windedly that she’s dumping him, Reggie says–not bitterly but more as if he’s trying to spare her from feeling guilty–“Archie’s back, I get it, enough said.” Have I mentioned I am on team Reggie? I feel that his vacant stare is the perfect match for Veronica. Much more so than Archie’s vacant stare. Anyway, Reggie is not only understanding, but he even asks caringly how Archie is doing. Veronica completely blows over the weirdness and tells Reggie that Archie’s very stressed… and she has an idea to help them all blow off some steam! Is this really the right audience for you to prepare a homecoming shindig for your newly ex-ex-boyfriend, Veronica?

Betty has sought the help of Attorney McCoy re: her involuntary donation. (Apparently Attorney McCoy’s entire job is helping these kids with their legal problems, and we KNOW Betty can’t pay any fees since she can’t even pay for a milkshake!) Anyway, Attorney McCoy tells Betty that she can pursue legal action against her mom if she can prove that her dad didn’t sign off on transferring the funds. Betty realizes that means she has to go see her dad. Betty’s shirt has a bright pink lip print on the left shoulder. Did Cheryl Blossom get to her, too?

Over at Hiram’s Evil Lair, Hiram is consulting with Penelope and Claudius. They think it’s about buying the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, but Hiram’s already all over that. No, he wants them here because he needs a new sheriff–and he wants it to be Claudius. The Blossoms point out nervously that Hiram beheaded the last sheriff. Hiram obviously has no fucks to give on that front. “It’s not a request,” he says.

Jughead and Betty are trying to help Archie study for the SATs, but Archie is stuck on “iconoclast.” Jughead explains what it means with a sigh that made me laugh, as if this is like the hundredth word in a row he’s had to explain to Archie. Archie says, “I’m in high school. How am I supposed to know that?” Jughead doesn’t even bother to answer that and, having clearly given up on Archie actually knowing vocabulary, says, “Why don’t we start thinking about the SATs in terms of strategy?” Hee. The only problem is that Jughead’s suggested strategy is to just always pick D. Archie turns to Betty, who’s sitting on the bed with some papers, and asks how he did on the practice test. Betty’s response: “Ummmmmm.” Hee!!! Archie grabs it from her and is excited to see that he got a 600 on one section, but Betty has to explain that it’s actually his combined score. Ouch. She promises to get him caught up, just like when he was in second grade and couldn’t read. Poor Archie!

Fangs and Jughead have met at Dilton’s bunker. Suddenly I’m realizing that this is a weird place to have secret meetings since doesn’t the Gargoyle King, like, own this bunker? Anyway, Fangs is in the inner circle and there’s going to be a ceremony tomorrow night, and the Gargoyle King will be there. Jughead claps once and says “This is huge.” He tells Fangs to go, but promises him he’ll have backup.

Back in town, Betty finishes dying Archie’s hair back to its original red, and brings him down to La Bonne Nuit, where everyone’s waiting with a welcome home banner. Veronica announces she’s going to give a “musical amuse bouche,” and starts singing a cute song in Spanish that I don’t understand any of, except that she keeps saying “eres tu.” She tries to make sexy eye contact with Archie, but Archie is busy having flashbacks to all the imaginary murders he committed while he was going into septic shock in Canada, and runs away in the middle of the song. Poor Reggie looks on at all of this, looking… if not actively sad, then at least something approaching emotional.

Betty has gone to visit her dad in a weirdly dim prison with “NO CONTACT” stenciled on the wall behind her. He stands in the half-light and intones creepily about how fascinated he is by the Gargoyle King. Ah, a Silence of the Lambs homage! I can get behind that. Betty’s dad is pretty creepy. “I bet it roils you up that you haven’t caught him yet,” her dad says. I think you mean “riled,” but… close? Betty insists she just wants to go to college, but her dad won’t help unless she brings a copy of the G&G manual.

In a darkened classroom, Reggie rants to Veronica that it wasn’t cool how Archie ditched the party. So much for him playing the cool, understanding guy! But what do you want, the kid’s in high school. Veronica offers a rather inadequate defense that the SATs are a pressure cooker. Reggie says that Archie’s different, and what if he’s “not your Archiekins anymore?” Veronica refuses to answer this, so Reggie leaves in a huff…

…And confronts Archie in the locker room about storming out of the speakeasy “like a little bitch!” Archie, who naturally is shirtless (I feel like I should take a shot every time this happens), tells Reggie not to mess with him, and that’s when Reggie notices Archie’s scar. “You were attacked by a frigging bear?” he says when Archie explains. I mean, yep. That’s pretty much everyone’s reaction to that plot twist.

We get to find out what Hiram’s plan is for the Sisters of Quiet Mercy: he wants to buy it for himself and Hermione and make it their “castle.” Hermione, somewhat surprisingly, objects to this on the basis that it would be haunted by the dead nuns. Hiram, even more inexplicably, agrees to have it cleaned “by a signora.” WHAT? Was that like racist against himself, or was it an actual cultural reference that I don’t understand, or did he just mean “by a woman,” and happened to say it in Spanish, so it was just sexist and not racist at all? I’m so confused. He also tells Hermione that Claudius is her new sheriff. Hermione objects to this on the basis that if she appoints Hiram’s business partner to be sheriff, “People will talk.” I mean, I think the fact that Hiram beheaded the last one is slightly more scandalous than a little run-of-the-mill corruption.

Betty shows back up at the jail with the affidavit, which her father promptly signs. When she leaves, he tries to get her to stay and exchange some pleasantries. Betty’s not into this, so he suggests talking about Ascension Night instead–and promptly confesses to having been there dressed as the Gargoyle King, spying on the other kids (since he wasn’t part of the group), and killing Featherhead. “Was he your first kill?” Betty asks, kind of amusingly. Her father agrees.

If you thought right away that that resolution was too easy, you’re right. I like to think I’d have caught on to this if it weren’t for the fact that Riverdale this season has been all about solving mysteries at a lickety-split pace. But as Betty is signing out, the guard (who apparently doesn’t get very good privacy training, or maybe prisoners don’t really have a right to privacy?) reveals that someone named Alice Cooper has been visiting Hal every Monday. But the real Alice never visits Hal! Dun dun dun.

Fred brings Archie a load of clean laundry and Archie complains about all his music memorabilia cluttering his desk. He tells his dad he feels lost being back home–but that he doesn’t want to talk about it till after the SATs. Cold!

Meanwhile, Fangs is working up his nerve to put on his gargoyle mask and join the Gargoyle Gang around a big fire in the middle of the woods. The King rasps, “Fangs Fogarty. Kneel before your king!” and picks up a HOT BRAND. Uh… whoa. Poor Fangs. Luckily his Serpent backups arrive just then, including FP and Jughead. When they strip the mask off the Gargoyle King, they discover it’s someone named Tall Boy.

Uh… I’m sure I’m supposed to know who that is, but I don’t. Luckily, I’m one of the 43% of seventeen.com readers who also don’t have any idea. Here’s their helpful explainer! Long story short, according to Seventeen, he’s a Serpent who supposedly died in season 2, and also there was something about a street race?

After the commercial break, Jughead and his pals are lined up in front of a bloodied Tallboy asking why he isn’t, you know, dead. Tallboy really leans into the villainy, bragging about scaring the crap out of “bitch” Betty Cooper. Jughead promptly socks him in the face and starts interrogating him about Hiram. But Tallboy isn’t done: he also wants to brag about carving up Joaquin’s face after he killed him. Jughead has to pull Fangs back from beating him up. He asks Tallboy to get them to Hiram, but Tallboy says he’d need something that Hiram really wants.

Betty comes home and finds Alice in a cute tweed suit and accuses her of dressing up to visit Hal. Alice says it’s for a job interview, but when Betty explains what Hal said, Alice protests that Hal wasn’t even there that night. But like, Hal said he was dressed up as the Gargoyle King, so how does Alice know he wasn’t there? Whatever, this is all moving way too fast for me to question is (which I’m sure is partly the point). Betty says that he must know about Ascension Night through Alice’s visit, but Alice says she hasn’t visited Hal.

Over at the high school, Archie finds Reggie swiping through Bumble. Heh. “Love doesn’t come easy to me these days,” he admits. Awww, poor Reggie. Archie, having apparently still noticed NOTHING about Veronica and Reggie, tells Reggie he has to ask about “cheating.” Reggie immediately panics and asks if Veronica told him. Archie slowly says that this was about the SATs, but the game’s up. Even Archie can put two and two together now. Reggie acts sorry about this, but somehow I kinda doubt he is.

Jughead finds Archie in his room and asks for his help–as BAIT for Hiram. Archie doesn’t need asking twice, and he and Jughead adorably clasp hands.

Q: What’s more fun than studying for the SATs?

A: Engaging in wacky hijinx to capture your ex-girlfriend’s evil dad!

Hiram receives a call from Tallboy, who says he has the “Red Palladin” and wants to meet at nine o’clock. Hiram agrees, and hangs up, but he looks suspicious. Uhoh.

Betty’s in the middle of her own investigation, calling the jail to ask what her supposed mom actually looks like. Busted, it’s Penelope Blossom! They meet at Pop’s, though Penelope claims, “I was reluctant to show up since last time we met you accused me of murder.” Betty has the grace to look a little sheepish, but then asks, “Are you one of those sickos who fantasizes about serial killers?” Hee! Penelope takes this a lot better than you’d think and cheerfully describes writing letters to Jeffrey Dohmer as a girl. Um, whoa there. Betty asks why she’s been visiting Hal at the jail. “The only way to get conjugal visits. A man has his needs,” Penelope says cheerfully. EW! WHAT?! Betty handles the revelation that her dad is sleeping with her aunt in prison with a lot less vomiting and screaming than I would’ve. Penelope easily admits that she told Hal about Ascension Night “during pillow talk” (again… ew) and that he claimed to be there for “self-aggrandizement.” Gee, that was easy.

Betty shows up at the prison to rant about Hal taking credit for Featherhead’s death. Hal refers to this as an “outrageous lie,” which… I feel like accidentally poisoning your principal twenty years ago while dressed as a Gargoyle King would be outrageous for many people, but maybe not for a dude who already murdered like twenty other people? He prods Betty to realize why he did it: “To keep me on the line,” Betty finally realizes. “I just wanted some father-daughter time,” Hal says. That was kind of funny. The evil dads on this show are good with the deadpan humor.

The Man in Black arrives on a deserted bridge in an ostentatious black limo. Way to be subtle, Hiram. Jughead is crouching on some kind of platform hanging off the bridge, hidden only by like one horizontal metal slat. Way to be even more subtle, Jughead. And the Gargoyle King is waiting for the Man in Black with Archie on his knees next to him. But when they get close to each other, the men realize that neither is who they expected–it’s FP instead of Tallboy, and Claudius instead of Hiram. Jughead pops out and asks why Hiram sent Claudius. Claudius tries to run, but FP declares he’s “making a citizen’s arrest.” Hee!

Archie arrives home safe to find Veronica crying on his bed. He seems to have calmed down from his irritation with Reggie and says sweetly that she doesn’t have to explain. Veronica confesses that she was angry at Archie for not fighting to stay with her, and got tired of missing him. He asks how she feels now, and when she cries and says this is a bad time to do this, so he asks her if they can just–not do it tonight. Or more accurately, he asks if they can not break up tonight. He definitely does want to “do it” tonight. And so does Veronica! She jumps his bones immediately. I know this is fan service for whatever segment of the Riverdale fandom still cares about anything other than Bughead, but I have to wonder if Reggie is going to feel a little weird about the sequence of events here, should he ever find out.

It’s time for the SATs–aka the payoff for the lowest-stakes plotline in this episode. The test begins, and immediately Archie starts sketchily looking around. But it turns out he’s not cheating: he’s just freaking out that everyone else knows what they’re doing. As soon as he starts to fill in what appears to be a randomly chosen bubble, he breaks his pencil. Veronica tries to follow him, but the teacher threatens her with an “automatic zero” if she does. So she has to stay behind while Archie continues to have flashbacks to his imaginary murders in the bathroom. He freaks out so much that he punches the mirror and breaks it. I honestly can’t tell at this point what I’m supposed to think about Archie. Due to his fundamental lack of developed personality it is hard for me to feel that he is scary and violent, as I would usually think about people who have this many murder fantasies and punch this many walls. Instead I feel like, “So… do you want me to feel sorry for him? Scared of him?” I’m just confused!

Hiram is on the phone in his office when someone SHOOTS HIM IN THE CHEST! Okay that actually was surprising. He falls to the ground, bleeding.

Betty comes into the Cooper kitchen to find Alice, Evelyn, and a few Farm people celebrating with something called “raw milk” (whatever that is, it sounds gross) because Alice got a job! And, the Farm has bought a new headquarters, according to Evelyn: the Convent where the Sisters used to live. I guess Hiram didn’t get his castle anymore. Due to Betty’s contribution they can afford it. Betty is THRILLED to hear it.

Veronica waits outside Hiram’s room in the hospital when Archie arrives. She asks where he’s been and his answer is only, “I came as soon as I heard.” I guess if he explained that he was kneeling on a darkened bridge trying to entrap Hiram with a fake Gargoyle King it would be a little awkward, under the circumstances. Tearfully, Veronica asks if he was the one who shot Hiram and Archie has the nerve to get all mad that she would even ask him that. “It’s over, isn’t it?” he asks. Um, her dad just got shot, maybe cool it with the relationship talks? On the other hand, him storming out will give her the chance to cuddle up with the much more understanding Reggie, so.

Jughead arrives at the bunker to find Tallboy TOTES DEAD and Fangs and Sweet Pea legit sobbing. They say it was an accident and that he was trying to escape. Jughead clutches his head and then tells them not to tell anyone. Instead, they’re going to throw a party. Jughead, no! Don’t you know the coverup is worse than the crime? Sigh.

Also how many parties are going to be IN this episode?

Fred and Archie sit at home and Archie tells Fred that he broke up with Veronica and walked out of the SATs. Gee, good thing he’s not a junior with many more chances to take it! Oh, wait. Fred advises him to get through it the same way he got through juvie–by keeping fighting.

A young prison guard brings Claudius his meal but finds him dead on the floor.

FP shows up in Hermione’s darkened office and asks how Hiram is. But Hermione says mysteriously, “That’s not why I called you here, FP. I think it’s time.” Time for what?! So curious! These parents are just so full of crafty little plots!

Betty, apparently at the end of her rope, goes to her dad to complain about her mom. He offers what sounds like genuine sympathy and promises that she’ll have colleges lining up to give her scholarships. That was almost sweet.

Veronica sits by her dad’s hospital bed when Reggie arrives with flowers and a balloon and wraps her in a big hug like a champ. You can tell from Veronica’s delighted face that Archie is long forgotten already. (Sorry for hating on Archie so much, if he has any fans out there reading this. It’s not his fault that he’s not very bright and doesn’t have much of a personality. And while that may describe Reggie too, the difference is that Reggie knows he’s not that special and so he’s not going to be such a pain in the ass about taking up screentime for his Faux Existential Angst.)

Speaking of people who should get all the screentime, Jughead is trying to keep Sweet Pea and Fangs from losing their shit at a sad party in the trailer park. He’s like, as far as anyone knows, Tall Boy is exiled. We still don’t really have an explanation as to why this guy is dead instead of Sweet Pea and Fang just letting him escape. You’re allowed to make a citizen’s arrest in the US, according to noted legal authority Wikipedia.org, but you can’t take any violent actions against the detainee. But let’s be real we don’t watch this show for its verisimilitude!

Jughead leaps on a car to shout some stuff about taking Hiram out of commission, you know, as one does. Just then a police car pulls up and out comes a dude in a sheriff’s hat… and it’s FP Jones! Jughead says, “Dad!” and FP legit WINKS and says, “That’s Sheriff Jones to you now, boy.” OK, that was hilariously creepy and weird. Then he yells that he’s the “new law” in Riverdale and everyone cheers. So… gang rule! Hooray!

RD 310 wink

Back at home, Archie punches a pillow and then takes a swig out of a flask in his desk. Hey, it was about time for someone to have a Downward Spiral on this show! Do I smell an upcoming Very Special Episode?

Fred shows up to ask if Archie’s OK and Archie says he will be and then goes back to punching his bag. Oh the emotions! They’re so… tepid!

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